In the ancient Greek town of Delphi once stood a temple dedicated to the Greek mythological god Apollo. This temple supposedly housed the renowned oracle of Delphi, a source of "wisdom" to which many pilgrims traveled. According to tradition, these words were etched in stone above the entrance: Gnothi se auton [translation: "Know thyself"].
What is left of ancient Delphi stands as a monument to the futility of seeking wisdom and understanding from any source other than God (compare with 1 Corinthians 1:18-21). However, the phrase "Know thyself" might be worthy of further examination. While the statement was undoubtedly meant to place undeserving emphasis on the wisdom of man, there is a nugget of truth underlying the simple phrase that can be useful to the modern Christian.
Self-deception is an epidemic that has cost many their souls throughout the history of mankind. The people of Israel deceived themselves into believing that they were faithful to Godin the midst of sin they perceived themselves as "seek[ing] Me daily, and delight[ing] to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness" (Isaiah 58:2). Saul was obviously self-deceived when he claimed before Samuel, "Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me" (1 Samuel 15:20), completely ignoring the fact that he had expressly disobeyed God's command to utterly destroy the Amalekites (verses 3, 9). In the New Testament, mention is made of those who should be "doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James 1:22). As well, John responds to those who claim to be without need of the saving blood of Christ: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8).
Today, as in the past, self-deception takes on many forms. The denominational person practices self-deceit when he convinces himself that he is destined for heaven, despite standing in direct contradiction to God's Holy Word. The erring Christian practices the same when he persuades himself that as long as no one knows of his sin, it does not matter. Many husbands and wives live in self-deceit about the state of their marriages; many parents live in self-deceit about the characters of their children; and so on. Like a disease, self-deception eats away at our desire to grow, our willingness to face the challenges of life, our interest in hearing the instruction of God and others who love us. It breeds laziness, complacency, and compromise. It is one of the most powerful tools of Satan, and he wields it with great skill.
The remedy for self-deception? Gnothi se auton. We must take the time and make the effort to know ourselves. While Satan whispers, "You're okay like you are," God's inspired Word commands, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Corinthians 13:5). The word translated examine means to "test objectively," and prove carries a similar connotation. "Know ye&your own selves" might be literally translated, "Get acquainted with yourselves enough to know&" The point should be clear: while Satan is attempting to convince us we are where we need to be, God desires for us to constantly be striving, testing, and measuring ourselves against His standard, the "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25).
Of course, doing as God requires takes great honesty and courage. There are few things more difficult than admitting wrong, especially if that wrong is ingrained deep in our lives and/or has been assumed right for many years. Conversely, there are some who find it just as challenging to embrace the areas in their lives in which they are doing well. They find it difficult to escape the guilt of their past actions, even if those actions have been forgiven by God. There is a fine line between "forgetting those things which are behind" (Philippians 3:13) and basking in self-deceit, just as there is between "buffet[ing] my body" (1 Corinthians 9:27) and wallowing in self-pity.
Dave Weber, a motivational speaker specializing in workplace relationships, describes the "Seven Me's That I Am" as: the me I think I am; the me others see; the me I used to be; the me I want to be; the me I really am; the me others try to make me; and the me I try to project. Each of these "me's" is a powerful dynamic in the way we interact with others; however, only one actually stands before God: the "me" I really am. As God said to Samuel concerning David's brothers: "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature&for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). Our goal, then, is to find that person we really are, shape it and mold it according to God's Holy Word, and allow the light that emanates from it to "shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). We cannot be saved unless we grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18; compare with 1:10), and we cannot grow if we do not know in which areas we need to grow.
Dear friend, for the love of your soul, know thyself.
303 DeKalb Street
McMinnville, TN 37110
1 Strong's Complete Dictionary of Bible Words
2 Taken from a seminar, but reference his book, Sticks and Stones Exposed: The Power of Our Words.
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